Worship in the New Testament

I’ve come across the claim that “worship” in the NT is either a) unique or b) ubiquitous. That is to say, some people claim that only Jesus is worshipped in the NT, while others claim that many people  are worshipped in the NT.

Both claims are flawed in that they seek to absolutize the evidence into a clear principle rather than following where the evidence leads. In the OT there are several instances of worship (basically bowing) being offered to humans as a sign of respect, yet the NT authors reframed the term to make it an action that is exclusively offered to God an Jesus in the positive sense, an offered to others in a negative (idolatrous) sense. So let’s look at worship (προσκυνέω) in the NT.

(note on methodology: We will concern ourselves only with occurrences of προσκυνέω, which may leave other occurrences of worship out of the mix, but is also an objective criterion for studying how the term was used formally.)

 

Usage by Author

We find the word 60x in the NT, divided thusly:

34x (57%) in the Gospels and Acts (Mt 13, Mk 2, Lk 3, Jn 12, Acts 4)

1x (2%) in the Pauline Epistles

24x (40%) in Revelation

2x (3%) in Hebrews

If we group John’s Gospel with Revelation, the usage by John accounts for 60% of the occurrences. Even if we consider the two texts to have different authors, it is worth noting that Revelation by far has the highest frequency of use, followed by John and Matthew. Mark, Luke, Paul, and Hebrews barely use the term. The 7 Catholic Epistles never use the term.

 

Usage by Object

To what or whom was the worship directed in the NT?

In Paul (1 Cor. 14:25) the object is God.

In Hebrews the first object of worship is the Son (1:6, citing Dt. 32:43)

“Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people.” (Brenton)

The second object is unidentified (11:21, citing Gen. 37:31)

“And he said, Swear to me; and he swore to him. And Israel did reverence, leaning on the top of his staff.” (Brenton).

In Mark the object is Jesus (2x, 100%), in both cases before the Resurrection.

In Matthew the objects are Jesus (11x, 85%), Satan (1x, 8%), and God (1x, 8%). The latter 2 are mentioned in the same passage (the temptation narrative), and only 2 of the 11 times that Jesus is the object of worship are post-Resurrection.

In Luke we have the same 2 instances from the temptation narrative that Matthew recounts, 1 for Satan and 1 for God. The only other instance is directed towards Jesus post-Resurrection.

In Acts we have 2 occurrences of worshipping (God) in Jerusalem/Temple, a mention of idol worship, and Peter being worshipped.

In John we have 11 references to worship of God (10 of which are in chapter 4), and 1 of worship of Jesus.

In Revelation the first object of (future) worship are the readers in Philadelphia (3:9)

” behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.”

Primarily God is worshipped (10x, 42%), and the beast/image/dragon/demons are worshipped 11x (46%). An angel is worshipped 2x (8%), and in both cases the one worshipping (the author) was corrected by the angel for such behavior.

Overall in the NT, we see this breakdown of objects of worship:

God (27x, 45%)

Jesus (16x, 27%)

Satan/Beast/Demons/Idols (14x, 23%)

An Angel (2x, 3%)

Peter (1x, 2%)

 

Conclusions

A few remarks are in order.

First, positive worship accounts for 72% of occurrences, applied only to God and Jesus, while negative worship accounts for the other 28%.

The implication is that only God and Jesus are to be worshipped, according to NT usage. However, it should be added to this that Jesus is worshipped after the Resurrection only 3x, and the remaining 13x occur from his birth to his ministry. We cannot, therefore, conclude that Jesus was only to be worshipped as the triumphant resurrected Christ. His worship was instituted when he was an infant (Mt. 2 with the visit of the Magi).

We can also add that this does not mean that the resurrected Christ was worshipped with any frequency in the NT. Although the Gospel narratives have only a short account of Jesus post-Resurrection, we do not find in the writings of Paul, Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude any mention of worshipping Jesus, God, or any other entity. They are silent on the issue, which indicates that when Jesus was worshipped post-Resurrection, it was not a new development in the NT trajectories, but a continuation of the worship that Jesus received throughout his life.

The depiction of Jesus being worshipped is largely confined to the Gospel narratives, and accounts for 23% of the total usages in the NT, and 48% of the usages in the Gospels (with God coming in a close second place at 45%).

Outside of the Gospels only Hebrews speaks of worshipping Jesus (referenced as the Son of God), and the author does so through the application of Deuteronomic song (referencing God himself as YHWH and El) to Jesus. We can ad to this that the words were said to have been spoken (or sung) to the Israelites by Moses and Jesus the son of Nun (Dt. 32:44). The author of Hebrews clearly identified the Son of God as YHWH/El, and not simply as a son of God (since the song reads “let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him.”)

We can conclude that worship in the NT is confined exclusively to Jesus and God. Other beings are worshipped (Satan, Peter, the Beast, idols, an angel) but theses occurrences are portrayed as negative. Only Jesus and his Father, God, are the proper objects of worship according to the NT authors.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Was Jesus Really a Carpenter? Part IV: The Case of Bezaleel

We have settled on a typological lens to understand how Jesus is a carpenter for Mark, and just what that means. Jesus is the fulfilment of the heroes of the OT, as mentioned in our last post. (note: in my haste I left out two rather important types that Jesus fulfills: Adam and God himself. Apparently they were too obvious for me to take note of!) Below we will look at the first likely referent that Mark has in mind, which deals with the typology of the Tabernacle builder Bezaleel.

 

Bezaleel

Most people are unfamiliar with this seemingly obscure character in the Bible, but he is very important for writers like Mark who wish to portray Jesus as the one who will build God’s true Temple.

Exodus 25-30 has an account of the instructions that God revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai regarding cultic matters (construction of the tabernacle, priestly consecration, etc.). Following this, chapter 31 states:

1 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:

And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,

To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,

And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee;

The tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the tabernacle,

And the table and his furniture, and the pure candlestick with all his furniture, and the altar of incense,

And the altar of burnt offering with all his furniture, and the laver and his foot,

10 And the cloths of service, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest’s office,

11 And the anointing oil, and sweet incense for the holy place: according to all that I have commanded thee shall they do.

 

Bezaleel is an interesting type of Jesus (or vice versa) in a number of ways:

  1. He is from the tribe of Judah
  2. He is filled with the spirit of God
  3. He has wisdom, understanding, and knowledge
  4. God “called him by name”
  5. He is a builder of “the tabernacle of the congregation”
  6. He equips the priests with garments and anointing oil
  7. His name means “in the shadow of God”

A few coincidences are bound to happen when depicting characters, but as the coincidences begin to pile up and are shown to be rather specific and pointed, we begin to see that this appears to be a deliberate typological portrayal of Jesus as Bezaleel.

Below I will explore the connections between the first 3 points above and Mark’s depiction of Jesus, particularly in the “carpenter” passage in Mark 6. I will privilege the information in Mark because he alone states that Jesus was a carpenter, and to bring the evidence from the whole of the NT would take our attention away from what Mark in particular had to say. In this approach, we will assume the following 3 points:

  1. Paul wrote prior to Mark, and Mark had read Paul’s letters
  2. Matthew, Luke, and John wrote after Mark, and Matthew and Luke had definitely read Mark’s Gospel
  3. if Mark actually sought to depict Jesus as the new Bezaleel for his readers, he would have provided them with concrete clues in his Gospel, rather than vague correspondences

 

Points 1-7 are all repeated in Mark’s description of Jesus, and below the first three are expounded upon:

He is from the Tribe of Judah

While Mark says nothing of Jesus being from the tribe of Judah, no sources ever contradict the claim and it was common knowledge that he was from the line of David and therefore the tribe of Judah. This claim was so strong that Mark felt free to include the seeming denial of this lineage by Jesus himself (see Mark 12:35-37). Jesus’s identity in Mark was a secret (the so-called “Messianic secret“) but he was called “son of David” (10:47-48) and connected to the “kingdom of David” (11:10) nonetheless. So Mark points to the Davidic identity of Jesus, and consequently Jesus must be understood as being from the tribe of Judah. This is made explicit by the amplified accounts of Matthew and Luke, who both affirm through their genealogies that Jesus was from Judah.

Yet many people were from the tribe of Judah, and this in and of itself is a rather weak link. As the links begin to add up, the cumulative argument becomes a strong one. But we are not satisfied with a mere cumulative argument. Is there something more specific (in terms of tribal identity) that links the two men? The answer is yes, in that both figures were the offspring of Judah (the royal tribe) and Levi (the priestly tribe). We will explore this more fully when we get to the implied background of Bezaleel in a future post. For now we should simply notice that both men were Judahites, and both men had Levite blood from their maternal ancestors. They were uniquely qualified to be both kings and priests.

In addition to this we can add that “Judah” appears in Exodus only 4 times. The first is in 1:2, in a listing of all 12 tribes. Nothing too interesting there. The remaining 3 occurrences should pique our curiosity, though: all 3 pertain to Bezaleel! All 3 are also verbatim repetitions of the phrase “Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.” Judah in Exodus is particularly linked with Bezaleel and his father and grandfather, and is never connected to anybody else.

 

He is Filled with the Spirit of God

It seems like no big deal to be filled with the Spirit of God, given that various saints were filled with the Spirit in the NT, and the phrase in modern Christian parlance if often applied to all Christians. So is it really significant that Bezaleel was filled with the Spirit?

The answer is an emphatic “yes.” The Hebrew word for “filled” (male’) is used 249 times in the OT (stretched over 24 books), meaning that it was a relatively common word. Yet we should notice that the 2 books with the highest number of incidences are Exodus and Ezekiel. Since Ezekiel is longer than Exodus by around 10%, this means that the word male’ is used in Exodus to a conspicuous degree. How is it used?

You can see all of the instances here. Exodus is divided into 40 chapters, and so we would expect 2.3 occurrences of the word every 4 chapters if the distribution was even. Yet we find 16 occurrences in the 13 chapters (28-40) alone, instead of the expected 7-8. This is double the average rate, telling us that something about being “filled” is conspicuous to the last third of the book. The first two thirds of the book contain 7 instances, roughly .26 per chapter, while the last third has 1.23 per chapter. In other words, the final third has about 5 times the rate of the word that the reader would expect. Something is afoot.

You might be wondering “What is the point of all this numerical analysis?” The point is this: I prefer to demonstrate objectively that something is going on in the text rather than going on hunches and feelings. The repetition of “filled” can be objectively demonstrated, and so I prefer to show that rather than have the reader trust (or not trust) that it is indeed an important word in the last third of Exodus.

So how is the term used in this section of Exodus? consider the following:

  1. filled “with the spirit of wisdom” or “the spirit of God” (4x, all referring to Bezaleel and his coworkers)
  2. consecrating actions (6x, 5 of them specifically referring to the priests, made possible by Bezaleel)
  3. setting stones and gems (4x, all in reference to constructing cultic objects made by Bezaleel)
  4. filled with “the glory of the Lord” (2x, both times at the very end of the book, referring to the Tabernacle built by Bezaleel)

The language of being “filled” with the Spirit of God or with wisdom never occurs in the Bible prior to the reference made to Bezaleel. He is the first to be said to have this experience, which is astonishing when we remember that Moses had already been communing with God on Mt. Sinai prior to this. All this information simply drives home that the depiction of Bezaleel is very important in Exodus, and consequently in the entire OT. All of the 16 usages of “filled” listed above refer to the person of Bezaleel or the result of his workmanship.

What can be said about the term “spirit”(ruwach) in Exodus? Interestingly enough, it occurs 11 times in Exodus in the following order:

  1. the “anguish of spirit” of the Israelites (1x)
  2. the wind (6x)
  3. the spirit of wisdom (1x)
  4. the Spirit of God (3x)

As you might have guessed, the spirit of wisdom and the Spirit of God are spoken of only in reference to Bezaleel and his workmen.

In the opening chapter of Mark, the Spirit of God descends on Jesus and drives him into the wilderness (1:10-12). This is striking not only because it is the beginning of Mark’s account (and therefore it is very important in his overall depiction), but because “spirit” never refers to God’s spirit in Mark’s narrative outside of this one episode (the first 3 occurrences refer to the Holy Spirit [1:8, 10, 12], while the other 3 occurrences [3:29, 12:36, and 13:11] all refer to the future events rather than actual narrative action; of the remaining 17 occurrences, 14 refer to demons, 2 to Jesus’s “spirit,” and 1 to the generic spirit of man).

It follows from this that not only are Jesus and Bezaleel endowed with the Spirit of God and the spirit of wisdom, but that they are the only ones who have that spirit. The exception to this is the anonymous others in Exodus who assist Bezaleel, and in Mark 6 directly after Jesus shows his acquisition of the spirit of wisdom (already he was said to have acquired the Spirit of God in ch.1) he goes to different villages teaching (building the Tabernacle) and sends out the (unnamed) 12 disciples (who correspond to the anonymous helpers of Bezaleel). This can hardly be coincidental. Mark depicts Jesus as the unique wise man who has the Spirit of God, a “carpenter” who never is said to build anything literally, but instead goes about teaching with his disciples, who together construct the Tabernacle of God (the Church). This is precisely how Bezaleel is depicted in Exodus.

 

He has Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge

This description of Bezaleel is impressive, but is it really that unique to him? Yes, it is! Wisdom (chokmah, σοφία) is mentioned in Exodus 8 times. We might expect that the first wise man in Exodus would be Moses, the main hero of the book. Or perhaps Joshua. But no, it is Bezaleel. 7 of the instances refer to him and his (male) helpers, while 1 instance refers to the women who sewed the Tabernacle curtains. This is quite a distinctive use of a very  general term and worth noting. Wisdom in Exodus is the gift given to the builders of the Tabernacle alone; not even Moses is said to have it.

Wisdom (σοφία) is only mentioned in Mark a single time (6:2), in the same account where he is called a carpenter. This wisdom is “given to him” just as Bezaleel and his helpers were “filled” with it by God. This wisdom is never inherent, but received. Again, it is striking that such a common word is used so pointedly in both Exodus and Mark, and applied to such similar characters.

Understanding (tabuwn, συνετός) is, as you might have guessed, is also exclusively applied to Bezaleel and his coworkers. The first three instances of the word in the entire Bible are in Exodus, and only deal with Bezaleel.

Understanding is never mentioned by Mark, but the opposite (ἀσύνετος) is mentioned in 7:18 “And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also?” By implication, Mark portrays Jesus alone as having understanding since Jesus was said to have amazed the people with his wisdom in chapter 6, and then in chapter 7 his disciples were “without understanding also.” This is surprising specifically because the coworkers of Bezaleel did possess understanding. This goes along with the them in Mark of the ignorance of the disciples, in spite of them being around the great teacher Jesus. No such deficiency was found in Bezaleel’s companions, and so the contrast is heightened by Mark.  While Jesus and the disciples begin constructing the Tabernacle through his teachings during the book, it is only after the Resurrection that the truth is made known and the real construction begins.

Knowledge (da`ath, ἐπιστήμης) is also used conspicuously in Exodus, occurring only twice, and this time referring only to Bezaleel (and not to his coworkers).

Similarly to “understanding,” Mark does not use this term in reference to Jesus but instead uses it in reference to Peter when he denies knowing Jesus and “understanding” what his questioner is asking (Mark 14:68). Significantly, this is the only instance of the word in Mark. The person identifies Peter as being with Jesus “of Nazareth,” and this title is used only 3 times in Mark: in 14:67, in the opening chapter, and in the closing chapter. When we add to this that chapter 6 tells us that Jesus was rejected “in his own country”(Nazareth) we cannot help but notice a connection. Nazareth as a city is mentioned by Mark only in 1:9, but also by implication in Mark 6:1.

 

Conclusion for Points 1-3

We have seen that Jesus in Mark and Bezaleel in Exodus share a common set of characteristics, and these characteristics are unique to both men in the 2 books. The usages of the terms involved is so conspicuous that it becomes an exercise in “faith alone” to see these as mere coincidences. Instead, it appears that Mark intentionally used such pointed terms and depictions to show his readers that Jesus was indeed a new Bezaleel, and uniquely so. Nobody else in Exodus is like Bezaleel, and nobody else in Mark is like Jesus; and they share the same unique characteristics! If the reader is not yet convinced of this, have no fear, because we have another 4 points that show the same striking correspondences.

As always, thanks for reading.

Was Jesus Really a Carpenter? Part III: A Type of Confession

In looking at whether Jesus was really a carpenter I had expected to write a series of three posts: the first would introduce the problem, the second would deal with the linguistic evidence, and the third would give perspective to the evidence and draw a valid conclusion.

Yet, as happens so often in honest research, these plans were thwarted. I found something rather different than what I had expected, and as such I am forced to change directions and follow where the evidence has led me. Below is a a reassessment of where I’m at on the issue.

 

The Historical Jesus

Nothing is quite so fashionable in biblical studies in the past century as the notion of the Historical Jesus. The original question I intended to answer is implicitly tied to historicity: “Was Jesus ‘really’ a carpenter?” implies to the modern reader that the answer will deal with the historical Jesus. He was either “really” a carpenter or not according to what “actually happened” in history.

Yet this approach is fundamentally flawed and ultimately an exercise in futility. We have no reliable way of determining whether Jesus even existed, at least in terms of modern ideas of history, let alone what his day job may or may not have been. Instead, we have literary evidence that tells us a story about a man who lived, died, and lived again. This evidence is therefor outside of the realm of modern history. There is no “objective” (read: reasonably non-biased) data set to even gauge the plausibility of the story, much less the historical veracity of it.

Instead of looking for what “really happened” (a fairly futile endeavor even for modern news stories) we should take the evidence for what it is: a story that is intended to communicate meaning. As such, we might reframe the original question in the following manner: What does it mean for Mark to tell us that Jesus was a carpenter?

In the first two installments of this study we have seen that the modern connotations of “carpenter” do not exactly fit what the Greek of Mark conveys, yet no single English rendering can accurately reproduce the connotations of the Greek. As such, “carpenter” is close enough for our purposes, while we should keep in mind that “builder” and “mason” are close to the mark as well, and perhaps even superior to “carpenter.”

 

Typology

Rather than pursue the dead end approach of the Historical Jesus, we should adopt the narrative logic of Mark. After all, Mark is our starting point for the idea that Jesus was a carpenter. To take his account as historically factual is an ignorant approach and one which disrespects him as an author. Instead we should adopt the well attested and undeniably valid criteria of typological analysis.

The OT writings use genres of myth, prophecy, ancient history, and wisdom literature to convey meaning to their readers. They are constantly self-referential. One cannot understand the ending of the book of Judges, for example, without realizing that the last 3 chapters are a retelling of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. One cannot understand Ezekiel’s contention that Jerusalem is like Sodom without knowing the story of Sodom to which he refers, nor can we understand his depiction of the king of Tyre if don’t notice that it is based on the typology of both Adam and Satan. The Old Testament is a tightly woven set of texts that constantly allude to and at times explicitly cite other texts within Jewish tradition.

Perhaps the greatest living Old Testament scholar today is Dr. Paul Nadim Tarazi. He has demonstrated for several decades the literary meaning of the Old and consequently the New Testaments. Much of the typology and allusion is lost on the English reader since the original languages of their composition (Hebrew and Greek) contain wordplay that cannot be conveyed in English. What was obvious for the original readers of the texts is no longer obvious to English readers.

Tom Dykstra, a protege of Tarazi, has written a brilliant book on Mark, but for our purposes what he says on the issue of genre is important in this article. His thesis is that Mark wrote his Gospel as “scripture.” That is to say that we should not approach Mark as modern history, ancient biography, or even as Homeric epic. Instead, we should approach it as a text self-consciously written as holy scripture, taking on the models of the OT writings rather than merely occasionally quoting from them.

This approach is not confined to the school of Tarazi, although in my opinion he is the leading light of it. Dykstra’s book, for example, is endorsed by the likes of David Trobisch and Thomas Brodie, both brilliant and uncompromising scholars. A scholar who has garnered more attention in the field is Richard Hays. For whatever reason, he has been able to communicate the scholastic validity of the typological/literary approach to the New Testament to a wide range of both liberal and conservative scholars. (I say “for whatever reason” because while Hays is a great scholar and superb writer, he is not as original as Tarazi. Perhaps it is his position at Duke as opposed to the smaller St Vladimir’s Seminary that has afforded him more publicity amongst scholars than Tarazi has received.)

In Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel WitnesHayes shows the importance of reading the Gospels in light of the Old Testament texts. The authors of the NT consciously wrote with OT literature in mind. We should note here that this approach is hardly novel, but is rather the traditional way that the Bible was read up until the modern period. The novelty that Tarazi and Hays bring to the table is novel only in the context of modern scholarship; the figural or typological approach was always how Scripture used to be read, and we know this from the Old Testament texts themselves. As such we should look for answers to our carpenter query in the Old Testament. We already began this process in the second installation of the series, but now we will do so in a more focused way. In particular, we will look at the theme of fulfilled typologies.

By this we mean the following: in the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament heroes. He is the new Moses, the new David, the new Solomon, the new Joshua, etc.

All too often this thesis is accepted, but never followed to its logical conclusion. For example, the portrayal of Jesus as the new David is beyond question. He is the son of David, the Davidic Messiah, etc. It is all too obvious. Likewise the new Moses theme is in the forefront of the portrayals of Jesus as fulfilling the Mosaic Law, giving the Sermon on the Mount, etc. The Elijah/Elisha story cycles are also found throughout the Gospels and Revelation, and Jesus as the new Solomon is driven home to the reader of the NT quite forcefully and repeatedly. All of these assertions are backed up by plain readings as well as solid scholarship, to the point that no legitimate scholar could possibly object to them. They are that obvious.

But some other typologies have been neglected. One obvious one that is seldom if ever mentioned is Jesus as the new Joshua (son of Nun). This is obvious because both men lead Israel into the Promised Land. Moses never gets to the Promised Land, nor do any people from that generation, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. Joshua goes on to conquer Canaan and establish possession of the Promised Land. He is the rightful leader and successor to Moses. The first book following the Pentateuch in the Bible is named after him, and it was reckoned as the first book of the Prophets by Jews. What makes this typology painfully obvious is that “Joshua” and “Jesus” are literally the same name. There is not one shade of difference between the two, in spite of the misleading translation in English. No Jew could hear/read the name of Jesus and not think of Jesus the son of Nun, the most famous Jesus in history prior to Jesus of Nazareth.

In the upcoming posts we will see that this typological fulfillment theme extends to two other figures in the Old Testament, ones that are not well-known to us today but were of utmost importance in the 1st century. Not only that, but these two figures were related to each other already within the Old Testament narratives.

I’m willing to bet that although these figures are important and were well-known to first century Jews, if I gave you their names and asked you to describe them you would be as clueless as I was. In other words, this is new information for modern readers.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

Was Jesus Really a Carpenter?

You have probably heard the claim that Jesus was a carpenter, but what is the basis for this assertion? I’m going to delve a bit into the evidence below and hopefully shed some light on this commonly held idea.

The Carpenter in the New Testament

We read about Jesus as a carpenter only once in the New Testament, namely in Mark 6:3. Verses 1-6  (KJV) are given below for context.

And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him.

And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.

But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.

And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.

And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.

The passage is unusual for a number of reasons but we will focus here on the reference to “the carpenter.” Neither Luke nor Matthew include this specific detail in their Gospels (cf. Matthew 13:54-58 and Luke 4:16-30). John’s omission of it is not particularly noteworthy since he differs from the Synoptics as a rule. It should also be noted that Matthew changes Mark’s account to read “Is not this the carpenter‘s son?” In other words, Mark alone tells us that Jesus was thought of as “the carpenter” while Matthew and Luke avoided telling their readers this.

(note: We are here assuming “Markan priority,” meaning that both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a basis for their own Gospels. While this is the scholarly consensus, it is not beyond question. Yet for our purposes it is instructive to see that the difference in accounts seems to indicate a conscious omission on the part of Luke and a conscious alteration on the part of Matthew.)

 

A Short Detour into Non-Canonical Accounts

No other NT author describes Jesus this way, and we have to wait until (presumably) the mid-2nd century to get more information on this in the Infancy Gospel of James (click here for the text and here for the first of several of my posts on the document). There we read that Joseph was a builder of some sort since he told Mary “and now do I leave thee in my house, and I go away to build my buildings.”

In the Arabic Infancy Gospel we read of Jesus doing some tricky carpentry work to assist his (unskilled) father:

38. And Joseph used to go about through the whole city, and take the Lord Jesus with him, when people sent for him in the way of his trade to make for them doors, and milk-pails, and beds, and chests; and the Lord Jesus was with him wherever he went.

As often, therefore, as Joseph had to make anything a cubit or a span longer or shorter, wider or narrower, the Lord Jesus stretched His hand towards it; and as soon as He did so, it became such as Joseph wished. Nor was it necessary for him to make anything with his own hand, for Joseph was not very skilful in carpentry.

39. Now, on a certain day, the king of Jerusalem sent for him, and said: I wish thee, Joseph, to make for me a throne to fit that place in which I usually sit. Joseph obeyed, and began the work immediately, and remained in the palace two years, until he finished the work of that throne.

And when he had it carried to its place, he perceived that each side wanted two spans of the prescribed measure. And the king, seeing this, was angry with Joseph; and Joseph, being in great fear of the king, spent the night without supper, nor did he taste anything at all.

Then, being asked by the Lord Jesus why he was afraid, Joseph said: Because I have spoiled all the work that I have been two years at. And the Lord Jesus said to him: Fear not, and do not lose heart; but do thou take hold of one side of the throne; I shall take the other; and we shall put that to rights. And Joseph, having done as the Lord Jesus had said and each having drawn by his own side, the throne was put to rights, and brought to the exact measure of the place.

And those that stood by and saw this miracle were struck with astonishment, and praised God. And the woods used in that throne were of those which are celebrated in the time of Solomon the son of David; that is, woods of many and various kinds.

While these textual traditions are somewhat interesting, they are later compositions and have less value in the eyes of most readers. Consequently, for now we will simply focus on evidence as found in the canonical Scriptures.

Returning to Mark

The term found in Mark 6:3 is not technically “the carpenter” but  τέκτων in the Greek. We should remember that English is not a proper reference for understanding the NT, and so the Greek word rathe than the English translation will be our basis for understanding the claim of Jesus being a “carpenter.” So what is a τέκτων?

τέκτων is basically a builder, or one who uses “technology” (think of the word “architect” which means “head builder,” roughly speaking). A carpenter, on the other hand, usually denotes a person who works with wood (see the etymology here). A mason is a person who tends to work with stone, at least by modern usage (see the etymology here). “Mason” may be a better rendering of τέκτων since it is more general (meaning “maker/builder”) but the modern connotations might mislead readers to think of something more specific than the term actually denotes. Similarly, “architect” carries the connotation of a person who plans a building project rather than one who actually does the work of building. An architect is perceived as being more “hands off” than a mason or carpenter.

Mark and Matthew don’t tell us what materials Jesus and/or Joseph worked with, and since Palestine had both wooden and stone buildings we can only speculate as to which term would be more correct. We can say at this point that the more general term of “builder” is the most appropriate.

(note: the Vulgate reads as follows:

Mt. 13:5 “nonne hic est fabri filius”

Mark 6:3 “nonne iste est faber

ergo the Latin translators understood the Greek text to mean that Jesus and Joseph were makers, craftsmen, workmen, etc.)

However, there is a way to more fully understand what the first readers of the NT would have understand the term to mean by looking at the Greek OT (commonly called the LXX). This was the version of the Scriptures that the NT authors used almost exclusively. We can also look at the corresponding Hebrew terms in the OT to try to grasp a fuller meaning of the term and what it meant to 1st century readers.

This will be the subject of our next post. Thanks for reading!

Online Resources

I’m posting some links to online resources for scholarly books and links on Biblical studies and related matters. They are in the public domain and very helpful, so the list will continue to grow and will reflect a variety of old scholarly works.

Sites

Lexundria has translations of Josephus by Whiston as well as many other ancient texts.

Ellopos has a helpful format for the LXX with 2 columns, reflecting Brenton and the LXX.

Blue Letter Bible has helpful resources for doing word searches and studying the text. The LXX is not searchable in Greek, though, andd neither is Brenton’s translation included.

Kata Biblon is a nice lexicon for the LXX and GNT, and although it is not exhaustive it lists the occurrences of each word and links to lexical definitions. So while some terms in the LXX are not included, most are and the format is easy to navigate.

Early Christian Writings has a wealth of information, with English translations of early texts as well as introductory treatments.

Perseus has two features that I use: the Greek Word Study Tool (which is basically a searchable lexicon with the added feature of parsing whatever form you enter) and the catalogue of texts in Greek, some of which also have English translations on the site. You can search for a word with the Study Tool and then see where in the database that word is also used. This does not include Philo or the LXX, nor the Apostolic Fathers, but it does contain the NT, Eusebius, Josephus, Barnabas, and much more.

Books

Hunter.  Paul and His Predecessors (1961)

Adams. St. Paul’s Vocabulary: St. Paul as a Former of Words (1895)

Referenced by Allen in “The Lukan Authorship of Hebrews.” An interesting linguistic resource.

Alexander. The Leading Ideas of the Gospels (1892).

Ferrar. The early Christian books, a short introduction to Christian literature to the middle of the Second Century (1919)

Giles. The Writings of the Early Christians of the Second Century (1857).

Godet. A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. Vol. 1 (1875) and

Godet. A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. Vol. 2 (1881).

Godet. Studies of Creation and Life (1882).

Jackson. The Apostolic Fathers and The Apologists of the Second Century (1884).

Swete. The Old Testament in Greek According to the Septuagint. Vols 12, and 3.

A critical edition of the LXX.

Tischendorf. Travels in the East (1847).

A Peculiar Aspect of the Gospels

There are 4 Gospels included in the New Testament. They are all formally anonymous (the author does not identify himself) but all are associated consistently with 4 authors. These attributions are consistent and widespread, and there seems to be no confusion as to who wrote the texts in the accounts of early Christians, and even later Christian authors.

This consistency is highly unusual, implying a very strong tradition of authorship for all 4 Gospels. This defies explanation if early Christian communities were not intimate connected and the authorship of each Gospels was established early.

The twist on this is that each Gospel contains a character that is ambiguously associated with the author:

Matthew (9:9), Mark (14:51-52), Luke (24:13), John (21:7)

What explains this phenomenon?